Stanley: Virus outbreaks at other schools led MSU to move classes online

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Michigan State University had a strategy to bring students back to campus amid COVID-19 that focused on mask-wearing, socially-distant classrooms, surveillance and testing that officials felt confident about, President Samuel Stanley said Wednesday.

But as MSU officials watched other higher education institutions around the country reopen with similar plans, they saw the virus began to infect significant numbers of students. MSU talked with some of those schools about the strategies they were using to keep students safe.

"We came to the conclusion that while we thought our protocols were sound, that many of them were not particularly different than the strategies that were employed by the those other institutions," Stanley said.

"We made the decision that is probably safest for our students, our faculty and staff that we take the actions we announced yesterday to move almost completely to remote and online courses."

Stanley — a physician who is an infectious disease specialist — made the comments during a call with media a day after he announced that classes for undergraduates would be online only and asked students who were planning to live on campus to stay home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Samuel Stanley

The announcement impacted nearly 10,000 students, said officials at MSU, the state's largest university with enrollment of about 50,000.

Typically, between 14,000 and 15,000 students live on campus, according to MSU spokeswoman Emily Guerrant. After Stanley encouraged students to consider living at home if they could, coupled with MSU waiving its requirement that freshmen must live on campus, that number went down to about 9,600. 

MSU's shift comes as Michigan's total number of COVID-19 cases reached 94,278 cases as of Wednesday, and deaths reached 6,349. 

Ingham County, where Michigan State is located, has reported 1,603 cases of COVID-19 and 35 associated deaths, according to state data.

Guerrant added that final enrollment numbers won't be available until after classes start on Sept. 2.

But she said fall enrollment is on par with last year, when MSU had 49,809 students, and this fall's freshman class is about 8,600 students.

"Traditionally, 70% of all MSU students (including graduate students) live off campus," said Guerrant.

In June, dozens of patrons at Harper's Restaurant & Brew Pub in East Lansing contracted COVID-19. Those present appeared to be students who were not wearing masks, according to photos and videos. 

More than a dozen MSU football players have tested positive for the virus, along with at least four staff members.